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Life in the District can be stressful, considering the incredibly high cost of living, the traffic jams that are only made worse with each motorcade passing through and the tourists, journalists and other visitors crowding the already limited space in the District, not to mention the issue of taxation without representation. Adding financial struggles to the mix can feel like the final cherry on top that makes life turn from stressful to more than anyone should have to deal with on a daily basis. If you are having a hard time making ends meet, it's good to be proactive and research your options early. As with many things, time is not your friend, and once a creditor starts garnishing your wages, your options will feel even more limited than now. Filing a Chapter 7 bankruptcy in D.C. can be a tool to provide you with the relief you need to get back on your feet. This guide will provide you with a brief overview of what a D.C. bankruptcy typically involves. It focuses strictly on the mechanics of it all because while filing a Chapter 7 bankruptcy in the District may feel like a personal failure, it is, in the end, nothing but a tool that is available to folks simply don't have the ability to meet all of their creditors' demands.
How to File Bankruptcy in D.C. for Free
Filing bankruptcy in D.C. normally requires everyone to pay a court filing fee of $335 for a Chapter 7 case. However, if your income is below a certain threshold and the court determines that you can't afford to pay the fee, it is possible to file your Chapter 7 bankruptcy in D.C. for free.
Collect Your D.C. Bankruptcy Documents
Since one of the primary requirements inherent in filing bankruptcy in D.C. is the full and complete disclosure of all relevant financial information, it will be helpful to collect some of the documents you will need to make sure you're not accidentally leaving anything out. In addition to your most recent federal income tax return, which you will need after your Chapter 7 bankruptcy in D.C. has been filed, you will need every paycheck stub you've received in the last 6 months to properly calculate your average income. If you are not sure about your monthly expenses, pulling a few of your recent bank statements will help you figure out the budget you have to file with the court. Finally, since one of the most important parts of filing bankruptcy in D.C. is to give proper notice of your case to your creditors, you should get a recent copy of your credit report. You are entitled to a free copy of the report from each one of the three credit reporting agencies once per year. You can request it either through a reputable third-party provider or contact Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion directly.
Take Credit Counseling
The credit counseling course is a requirement everyone filing bankruptcy in D.C. has to complete in the six months before their case is filed with the court. Without it, you are not eligible to be a debtor in a D.C. bankruptcy case. The purpose of the class is to make sure that you are aware of all debt relief options out there before moving forward with a bankruptcy filing. When you are done, you will receive a certificate of completion that has to be provided to the court as part of the documents you will submit to the court when your Chapter 7 bankruptcy in D.C. is first filed. It's important not to take this course from just any company offering credit counseling classes in D.C., as it won't count if they are not an approved provider. The Office of the United States Trustee maintains an up-to-date listing of all providers approved to offer the course to folks filing bankruptcy in D.C. on their website. Most people take the course online, though you can also take it by phone. Unfortunately, at this time, there are no brick and mortar locations you can visit to take the course in person.
Complete the Bankruptcy Forms
The bankruptcy forms are the documents that you have to submit to the court when filing Chapter 7 in D.C. This is the first step where you can have someone help you if you are not comfortable doing it on your own. If you are eligible to go through Upsolve for your Chapter 7 bankruptcy in D.C., we will prepare the forms for you based on the information you provide through our portal. If you hire a lawyer, they will get the necessary information and documentation from you and then prepare the forms for you. All of the forms are available as fillable PDFs for free online, so if you are not sure whether you want assistance with your Chapter 7 bankruptcy in D.C., you can download them along with a detailed instruction manual to see what all goes into it. Whether you are doing it yourself, or have someone help you, it's ultimately on you to make sure that all questions are answered truthfully and completely. Remember, you will have to sign everything under penalty of perjury and full disclosure is the only path to obtaining a discharge after filing bankruptcy in D.C.
Get Your Filing Fee
If you are not eligible to apply for a waiver for the court filing fee then you will have to pay $335 for your Chapter 7 bankruptcy in D.C. The clerk's office only accepts payments in the form of a money order or in cash. If you are paying in cash, make sure you have the exact amount with you when filing bankruptcy in D.C. as the clerk's office does not have change. Alternatively, you can purchase a $335 money order for $1.25 at any United States Post Office near you. While it may seem strange to you that someone has to pay a fee to file a D.C. bankruptcy case, remember that everyone's situation is different. People from various backgrounds and with various income levels end up filing bankruptcy in D.C. because they can't pay their debts. If your wages are getting garnished, leaving you with less income than you otherwise would, you can ask the court for permission to pay your fee installments after filing your Chapter 7 bankruptcy in D.C. The wage garnishment has to stop as soon as your case has been filed, which means you will start receiving your full paycheck again on your next payday. If you apply to make the payments in installments, make sure you carefully note the payment due dates the court sets, so you don't inadvertently miss one.
Print Your Bankruptcy Forms
Remember the part about signing your bankruptcy forms under penalty of perjury before filing bankruptcy in D.C.? That means actually putting pen to paper and signing your name in ink as none of the digital signature options available are accepted by the courts. If you hired a lawyer to help you with your Chapter 7 bankruptcy in D.C., they will schedule a meeting with you to review and sign all your forms, then file your case via the court's electronic filing system. If you did not hire a lawyer, you will have to bring all the original signed documents to the court in order to file your D.C. bankruptcy case. Folks able to work with Upsolve will receive a single PDF file they can print from any computer connected to a standard home or office printer. If you completed all the forms on your own, you may want to set aside a little more time, so you don't have to rush printing all the forms saved individually on your computer. In that case, it will be helpful to have a checklist to follow along the way, as the forms for a Chapter 7 bankruptcy in D.C. all look very similar to each other. You can either use the checklist of requirements for filing Chapter 7 in D.C. available on the court's website or print page one of this forms package.
Go to Court to File Your Forms
Since only lawyers are allowed to use the court's electronic filing system to file D.C. bankruptcy cases for their clients, you will have to go to court to submit everything in paper. If possible you should go there during the times that the clerk's office is open to the public so you can speak to a person when filing bankruptcy in D.C., as that can help avoid delays if something is not quite right or you're missing an important piece of the puzzle. Even though the clerk's office is only open from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., Monday through Friday, you can enter the courthouse 24 hours per day, 7 days per week and submit the documents for your Chapter 7 bankruptcy in D.C. by dropping them off in the court's speedy filing box. If you file your case after hours, make sure to carefully follow the instructions about stamping your forms, so the date and time you drop everything off is the date and time your D.C. bankruptcy case is officially filed. Since the U.S. Marshals are guarding the doors to the building at all times, make sure to review the court's procedures for passing a security checkpoint on the way in.
Mail Documents to Your Trustee
A few different things happen when you are done filing Chapter 7 in D.C., and one of them is that the court assigns a trustee to administer your case. The trustee is the person that you will interact with the most as part of your Chapter 7 bankruptcy in D.C., as it is their job to make sure that you are following all applicable D.C. bankruptcy laws and procedures. The trustees have a fairly long list of duties and one of their responsibilities is to review the most recent federal income tax return of everyone filing Chapter 7 in D.C. That is why the Bankruptcy Code actually requires everyone filing bankruptcy to submit a complete copy of their return to their trustee at least 7 days before their 341 meeting is scheduled to take place. Since each one of the trustees has devised their own policies and procedures for how they handle their duties, you may also receive a letter from the trustee assigned to your case with a request for other documents. If you do, make sure you follow the instructions provided by the trustee as everyone filing Chapter 7 in D.C. has an obligation to cooperate with their trustee.
Take Bankruptcy Course 2
The credit counseling class you took before filing bankruptcy in D.C. made you eligible to be a debtor in bankruptcy. That does not mean, however, that you are eligible to have a discharge enter ordered as a result of your Chapter 7 bankruptcy in D.C. Since the discharge is what grants you the fresh start by relieving you of the obligation to pay back your debts, Congress thought it prudent to require everyone to complete a debtor's education course. This course focuses on financial management so everyone filing bankruptcy in D.C. gets the chance for the best possible fresh start. There is no hard deadline by which you have to take the course, but the sooner you get it done after filing your case, the sooner you can stop worrying about it. Upon completing the course, find out if the company will file your certificate with the court handling your Chapter 7 bankruptcy in D.C. on your behalf. If not, make sure to file this certification instead to notify the court that you are ready to have your discharge entered. As before, it is important to take this course from a company that has been pre-approved to offer it to folks filing bankruptcy in D.C.
Attend Your 341 Meeting
The 341 meeting is the trustee's opportunity to verify your identity and ask you certain questions they ask everyone filing Chapter 7 in D.C. It is also referred to as the "creditors' meeting" or "meeting of creditors" because all of your creditors will know about the meeting and can attend to listen in and, if they want to, ask you some questions while you are under oath and being recorded. While that can be common in big corporate bankruptcy cases, it rarely ever happens in a typical Chapter 7 bankruptcy in D.C. You don't have to do much to prepare for the meeting, and the most important thing to remember is to bring your picture ID and acceptable proof of your social security number. Since the meetings typically take less than 10 minutes, the court schedules a number of them for the same half-hour time slot. That is nothing to worry about; though, and might actually help you feel less nervous about filing bankruptcy in D.C. and your upcoming 341 meeting and the questions the trustee will ask you.
Dealing with Your Car
Since the Metro is almost a better option than actually owning a car in D.C., chances are if you own a vehicle, you have a reason and cannot do without a vehicle. It makes sense that you would worry about how a Chapter 7 bankruptcy in D.C. would affect your car. You will be relieved to hear that filing a Chapter 7 actually gives you more options to deal with your car loan than you have now. If you don't have a loan and instead own your car outright, then you can keep it as long as it is worth less than the available exemption. Car exemptions are not unlimited because at some point it becomes unfair for a person to be able to keep a fully paid-for car and get a discharge relieving them from the obligation of having to pay their (dischargeable) debts. If you still owe money on your car, then filing Chapter 7 in D.C. enables you to either keep everything the as it was, buy out your car, or walk away. If the car is in decent condition and the terms of the loan and the remaining balance due make sense for your budget, you can enter into a reaffirmation agreement to keep everything the way it was. Keep in mind, however, that that also means you will be personally obligated to pay the loan off in full, regardless of what you do with your car. If the monthly car payment has been a burden on you, you can surrender the vehicle as a part of filing bankruptcy in D.C. without having to pay what's left owing on the loan after the car has been sold at auction.
Washington, D.C. Bankruptcy Means Test
Not every D.C. resident will be able to file a Chapter 7 bankruptcy in D.C. because their household income exceeds the income limits and as a result they fail the Washington, D.C. means test for bankruptcy. The test initially looks at whether your household income is more than the median household income for a household of your size in the District. If not, you pass the D.C. bankruptcy means test. If you make more than that, you will have to complete part two of the means test to find out whether you are eligible to file a Chapter 7 bankruptcy in D.C.
Data on Median income levels for Washington, D.C.
District Of Columbia Median Income Standards for Means Test for Cases Filed On or After May 1, 2020
|Household Size||Monthly Income||Annual Income|
Data on Poverty levels for Washington, D.C.
District Of Columbia Fee Waiver Eligibility for Cases Filed On or After May 1, 2020
Eligible for fee waiver when under 150% the poverty level.
|Household Size||State Poverty Level||Fee Waiver Limit (150% PL)|
Washington, D.C. Bankruptcy Forms
Most of the documents you will submit to the court when you first file your Chapter 7 bankruptcy in the District are officially availableonline bankruptcy forms that are the same across the country. There are certain local D.C. bankruptcy forms the court created for use in D.C. bankruptcy cases only. All of the District Chapter 7 forms are available from the court's website, as are instructions specifically with respect to your schedule of income and expenses you will file as part of your Chapter 7 bankruptcy in D.C.↑ Back to top
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District of Columbia Requirements
The District of Columbia has created a checklist for everything you have to know before filing a Chapter 7 bankruptcy in D.C., so make sure you review it carefully before you head to the court to file your case. Additionally, since this is a federal court, you will have to pass through building security on your way in and should review the requirements for entry so you don't run into any issues while there. If you have to amend your creditors mailing matrix to update an address or add a creditor, you are required to include a coversheet to indicate to the court what type of change you are making to the creditors in your D.C. bankruptcy case. If you are amending your income or expense schedules, it will be helpful to review this guidance provided by the court to District residents.↑ Back to top
Washington, D.C. Bankruptcy Exemptions
When a Chapter 7 bankruptcy in D.C. is filed the debtor's nonexempt assets are sold for the benefit of their creditors. That happens only in about 4% of Chapter 7 cases nationwide because the applicable exemption laws, by and large, protect most of the property a typical debtor owns. If you are a resident of the District, you can choose between federal bankruptcy exemptions and Washington, D.C. bankruptcy exemptions. Both include a wildcard provision that can be used for any property, though the D.C. bankruptcy exemptions contains a more generous homestead exemptions than the federal exemptions do.↑ Back to top
Washington, D.C. Bankruptcy Lawyer Cost
If you have equity in your home or otherwise have a hard time matching your assets to the available exemptions, it may be a good idea to consult with a lawyer. The average cost of a bankruptcy lawyer for a typical Chapter 7 bankruptcy in D.C. starts at just under $1,000 and goes up from there, depending on the complexity of your situation.↑ Back to top
Washington, D.C. Legal Aid Organizations
Not everyone who needs a lawyer for their D.C. bankruptcy matter is able to afford one. If you don't think the court's Bankruptcy Assistance Center will be able to provide the kind of help you will need to make sure you are fully protected under the D.C. bankruptcy laws, you can reach out to one of the organizations providing legal aid in D.C. The organizations serve low-income residents of the District who are unable to afford a lawyer for a civil matter and need free legal aid in D.C.
Neighborhood Legal Services Program of the District of Columbia
64 New York Avenue, NE Ste 180, Washington, DC 20002
Nationwide Service (NYC Office)
"I like that there are lawyers, paralegals, etc. out there that are willing to devote their time to helping people stuck in my type of situation, that can’t afford to file bankruptcy (seems like an oxymoron, huh?)."
District of Columbia Court Locations
E. Barrett Prettyman United States Courthouse
333 Constitution Avenue Washington, DC 20001
District of Columbia Judges
District Of Columbia Bankruptcy Judges
|District of Columbia||Hon. S. Martin Teel|
District of Columbia Trustees
District Of Columbia Trustees
|Marc E. Albert|
|Bryan S. Ross|
|Wendell W. Webster|
|William D. White|